A lot of retro styled games rely on the aesthetic to conjure up a sense of nostalgia for us long time gamers, hoping to link us up with experiences past in the hope that some of it will translate across. Back when that idea was still new I have to admit that it worked quite well although as time has gone on the differences between modern retro titles and their ancestors have become more stark, removing that sense of nostalgia completely. There are few games that manage to capture both the aesthetic and the essence of what made those games so memorable and I’m happy to say that I now count Shovel Knight among them.
You are Shovel Knight, a brave warrior whose weapon of choice isn’t exactly mainstream. You’ve seen many adventures always with your most trusted compatriate, Shield Knight, by your side. However one day, when exploring the Tower of Fate, you both fall under the power of the Dark Amulet. When you awaken Shield Knight is no where to be seen and you give up adventuring while you mourn her loss. However The Enchantress, an evil and powerful witch, has arisen in your absence spreading her evil across your land. When you hear she has unlocked the Tower of Fate once again you resolve to pick up your shovel once again and to rid your land of the darkness that now grips it.
Shovel Knight is visually reminiscent of the action adventure games of old with many of the visual elements being readily recognisable. Indeed the rendition was done so well that I figured there was no way it was using some kind of modern engine as everything really did have a retro feel about it. The end credits revealed it does use Box2D for its physics which has obviously been tuned to give it a much more retro feel. The music and foley also feels like it’s right out of a NES title, retaining that lo-fi quality and signature sound that games of that era had. If I’m honest it feels like the most honest recreation of an old pixelart game to date, eschewing any modern improvements in favour of keeping that nostalgia feeling alive.
In terms of gameplay Shovel Knight again feels awfully familiar, taking the tried and true mechanics from games of ages past and adding in a little of its own flair. The combat feels much like the Zelda games of old where you’ll be jumping, dodging and swinging your weapon wildly in order to defeat your foes. There’s also the tried and true platform sections, many of which rely on you using the various relics you’ve acquired in order to progress past them. You can also upgrade/modify your character in order to suit your playstyle, enabling a multitude of different ways to progress through the game. Lastly, if that isn’t enough for you, there’s dozens of achievements and challenges for you to complete, some of which require a great deal of skill to accomplish.
In the beginning the combat feels a little weird which I can pretty much wholly attribute to my use of the keyboard. You see just like the games which Shovel Knight takes inspiration from it was most certainly designed with a controller in mind as the keyboard setup is most certainly not intuitive. However once I got past that hurdle I actually felt that it was quite forgiving, especially after you got up a couple of the more broken items (the Phase Amulet especially). Indeed after the first couple bosses I found that I could usually cheese my way through them after a single death, something I definitely couldn’t say about say Zelda back in the day.
That being said the platforming, whilst being well thought out and challenging in the right ways most of the time, had more “fuck you player” moments than I’d like. These are things that you can’t plan for (like enemies appearing out of no where) or the introduction of new mechanics without an indication as to what they do. This is somewhat in the spirit of the game as a lot of titles from early nineties didn’t do this either, however that doesn’t stop these things from sucking out some of the fun in an otherwise great game. The rather generous recovery mechanic makes up for this a little bit although that can sometimes lead you into a horrible spiral of dying simply because you’re trying to recover your gold.
What is quite impressive about Shovel Knight is the sheer amount of variety that’s in the game. Every level has its own distinct theme with numerous different types of enemies and mechanics, meaning that no 2 levels feel quite the same. Sure there are some things you’ll learn in early levels that will come in handy later on but for the most part each level will be an experience in learning how to deal with the various challenges at hand. This then feeds into the bosses and the wandering encounters in the overworld, each of which has its own unique mechanics which you’ll need to exploit.
Actually thinking about it more this is probably one of the better examples of how to design to a pick up/put down style platform (the 3DS in Shovel Knight’s case). Each of the levels can be over in 10~20 minutes, even less for the wandering boss encounters or the other loot extravaganza levels, and all of them have their own style. Usually this would be something of a negative however in Shovel Knight’s case it actually made for a rather well paced game, one I invested a lot more time in than I would have otherwise done previously. Sure it wasn’t an exceptionally long game by any means but I still far more engaged with it than I have done with many of my previous reviews.
The story of Shovel Knight is fairly simplistic, usually being not much more than something to provide some witty dialogue between you and the boss you’re about to fight, but it’s more than enough to keep the game going. It really only comes to fruition in the last hour or so of gameplay and in that respect it does tie everything together quite well. However Shovel Knight isn’t a game you should be playing for the story as its mechanics are by far the strong point.
Shovel Knight sets the standard for titles that want to capture that feeling of games from ages past, faithfully recreating everything in a wonderful take on the old school action adventure. The graphics, music and sound all feel like they were ripped out of a long abandon title and then given life in a modern game environment. The gameplay, once you get past the initial teething phase, is very well done even if it can feel a little too easy at times. The story is probably the weakest aspect of the whole Shovel Knight experience but, thankfully, it doesn’t detract too heavily from it. If you’re a long time gamer like myself you’ll find a lot to love in Shovel Knight and I’d heartily recommend giving it a play through.
Shovel Knight is available on the PC, Nintendo 3DS and Nintendo Wii U right now for $15, $14.99 and $14.99 respectively. Total game time was 6 hours with 27% of the achievements unlocked.
I feel it’s pertinent that I get this out of the way before I start the review in earnest: Roguelikes give me the shits. I can understand the appeal that many find in them, figuring out a strategy to deal with whatever might come before you, however I really detest games that punish you with things that are completely out of your control. You get to a point where you think you’re doing great only to find that you hadn’t accounted for situation X which then proceeds to tank your game, forcing you to redo the entire section just so you can account for it. Whilst Gods Will Be Watching isn’t exactly a Roguelike (it describes itself as a Point and Click adventure, which it partly is) many of its gameplay elements take inspiration from the genre and, unfortunately, are the downfall of what would otherwise be a brilliant game.
Gods Will Be Watching is one of those games that started out as a entry to the Ludlam Dare game jam which received such wide acclaim that it then went onto a successful IndieGoGo campaign for development into a fully fledged title. You play as Sergeant Burden, a long serving member of the establishment who’s infiltrated himself into the idealistic rebellion group called Xenolifer. Your mission is to play along with them, gain their trust and hopefully limit the amount of damage they can do. However it becomes apparent that it’s not black and white when it comes to Xenolifer, or even your own organisation, and therein is where the real challenge lies. Can you protect everyone? Are you strong enough to make the tough choices at the right time? These are the questions you’ll be faced with and living with those decisions might be easier said than done.
Since the theme for the original Ludlam Dare entry was “minimalism” Gods Will Be Watching took the cue to use the current ultra-minimalistic pixelart styling that other games like Superbrothers: Swords and Sworcery EP are known for. There’s not a huge amount of visual variety in the game with the vast majority of it taking place within a single frame for each chapter of the game. It serves its purpose however, conveying the numerous visual clues and other elements form part of the core game play. It all kind of blurs into the background after a while as for the most part you’ll be spending your time in menus rather than constantly searching for things that you need to click on.
As I alluded to earlier the gameplay of Gods Will Be Watching is a mix between a traditional point and click adventure and a Roguelike. Each scene has a specific objective that needs to be completed in order to progress to the next chapter. Usually this objective requires you to play with a set variables in order to achieve the desired outcome so the majority of your time will be spent balancing them all out. Sometimes these variables are obvious, given to you in plain numbers, other times they’re hidden in the form of visual clues that you’ll have to decipher. There’s also several different ways of dealing with the problem at hand, some of which will make your life easier or harder depending on the objective. It’s an interesting concept however I feel that the execution has let it down somewhat.
You see I get the idea that there’s variables that need maximising and that you probably won’t get everything to go exactly the way you want however the inclusion of randomization feels like a big middle finger to the player. They mention this at the start, forewarning you that failure is to be expected and that you should just keep on trying, however the randomization can and will completely fuck you over numerous times before you get it right. It’s not even a matter of strategy after a while as even the best strategy can get completely wrecked by the random number generator spurting out a couple unfortunate numbers in a row. In a decently designed game this would be a low chance occurrence but in Gods Will Be Watching it happens constantly.
I’d probably be more forgiving if failing a chapter didn’t mean having to start all over from the start again, giving RNGesus another chance to fuck me over. Take for instance the torture scene where you have to distribute damage between the two characters in order to make sure you make it through the day. If your begs happen to fail, or you don’t get the response that allows you to rest, you’ll likely end up killing one of the characters. This isn’t to mention the Russian Roulette scene which can completely fuck you over, even if you use every trick at your disposal. The desert scene is even worse for this as even when I was doing things nigh on perfectly I still got ruined by random events that were out of my control which is where I ended up leaving the game.
Which brings me to the real reason why the random elements piss me off so much: the story is actually intriguing and one where I felt I was crafting my own little narrative within the game. Looking over the forums you can see how varied everyone’s experiences is, something that I really admire in a game when its done well. However like many games I’ve played as of late the mechanics of Gods Will Be Watching are just so onerous that those tasty morsels of story are so few and far between that they are simply not enough to keep you going. It’s a real shame as after reading a couple other reviews I’ve found out there’s still 2 chapters to go but, honestly, I just can’t be arsed to slog through the numerous rounds of RNG roulette in order to see them.
Gods Will Be Watching is a game I really wanted to like as it had all the makings of other titles in the genre that I had considered good. The simplistic presentation and story with a some level of depth to it, coupled with the ability to craft your own narrative above that, has great potential. However the Rougelike elements destroyed any hopes of that happening, trapping the story behind too many RNG determined gates forcing the player to spend hours redoing content in order to get to the next chapter. I’m sure there will be many people who say I didn’t get the point of it or some other bullshit but the simple fact is that Gods Will Be Watching failed to provide the writer with a good game experience, hiding its moments of brilliance behind mechanics that are simply not fun to play.
Gods Will Be Watching is available on PC right now for $9.99. Total play time was 5 hours with 10% of the achievements unlocked.
It used to be that telling a story through the video game medium was an impossible task for those who weren’t versed in the multitudes of skills required to pull it off. However the development of game making tools like, funnily enough, Game Maker have enabled many brilliant stories to be told. Such games are often very simplistic in nature however complex game mechanics aren’t a requirement for a good story and the indie game industry has flourished by embodying this principle. Always Sometimes Monsters is one such game, putting the player in numerous morally ambiguous situations and letting the player decided their ultimate fate.
This is it, your big break. Ever since college you’ve known that you want to be a writer and finally you’ve landed a deal with a big name publisher. With the love of your life by your side it seems that nothing can go wrong and the future you always dreamed of is within your grasp. Fast forward a couple years though and everything has fallen apart, you still haven’t finished your novel and your soul mate is marrying someone else. What do you do? Do you wallow in self pity, pining for the future you could have had? Or do you risk everything to be with them, abandoning what remains of your life to pursue that dream you once held in your arms? Your decisions will shape your destiny and, ultimately, what kind of person the world thinks you are.
Always Sometimes Monsters was created in RPG Maker which has brought us other amazing based story games like To The Moon. Due to the limitations of the RPG Maker engine Always Sometimes Monsters has a similar visual feel to that other games based on it although it does have its own distinct style. The animations are extremely rudimentary with a lot of the actions just being the walk cycle repeated. It’s hard for me to judge Always Sometimes Monsters harshly on its simplistic nature as that’s not the reason you’ll be playing it but after playing so many similar titles it was one aspect that stood out to me.
At its heart Always Sometimes Monsters is an adventure game, one where you’re forever on the quest to get enough cash to move you along to the next location. There’s numerous ways for you to scrounge up the dough you need from taking odd jobs at the employment office, doing favours for people or even more nefarious means. Along the way you’ll meet many of your long time friends who fill in the backstory of your life and how you interact with them will determine how everything pans out. For the most part there doesn’t appear to be an outright good and bad choice, leaving it up to you to determine where your moral boundaries lie.
Indeed Always Sometimes Monsters prides itself on the ambiguity of the decisions you’ll be making and how they affect the final outcome of the story. You do have a lot of power to alert the story how you see fit however the mechanics of how it works is somewhat cumbersome. There are numerous points where you’ll be asked a question you would have no idea what the actual answer was (like how you and the love of your life broke up) and the answer you give actually determines what happened. I’d feel better about it if there was a “true” reason and the difference between that and your response determined how some characters reacted to you but actually determining what happened with a single response just didn’t feel right.
There were several moments in Always Sometimes Monsters where I felt myself being drawn in, where the characters started to feel real and their problems echoed with those I’d encountered in my own life. However those moments are few and far between as Always Sometimes Monsters seems intent on beating you over the head with repetitive, menial tasks in order to further the story. The long quest for getting money at each section often leads you to taking on jobs that are incredibly boring and take up an inordinate amount of time. Then, by the time you actually get to another one of these nuggets of brilliant writing, you’re either angry or bored and the impact is lost on you. It got so bad that I tried to find a way to crack open the save files to give myself unlimited funds, just so I could actually enjoy the game.
However the numerous choices in the game unfortunately don’t add up to a cohesive story and the ending feels like a grab bag of the results of the various events you were involved in over the course of the story. Indeed probably one of the worst things is when you go through your journal and are asked, explicitly, how you feel about every single event in the game. The heavy reliance on choice is obviously done to make the game experience more personal to you, as everyone’s experience will be different depending on so many factors, however it just makes Always Sometimes Monsters story feel confused, disjointed and ultimately unsatisfying. For a game that has not much else to rely on messing up the story means the core experience unfortunately falls flat on its face.
Always Sometimes Monsters strived to provide an experience where the player was in control of their own destiny but unfortunately delivered an experience that fell short of its ambition. I wanted to like it, I really did, as those moments where the story shone through were truly great but they were so few and far between that the larger flaws of the gameplay and storyline are what leave a lasting impression. Your mileage may vary however, as many fellow reviewers have noted, but unfortunately for this writer Always Sometimes Monsters isn’t a game I can recommend.
Always Sometimes Monsters is available on PC right now for $9.99. Total play time was 7 hours with 100% of the achievements unlocked.
In the past the only genre of game that could get away with being intentionally difficult to play was survival horror. The reasoning there was that it built tension, mimicking the feeling of panic you would feel should you find yourself in the same situation as is on screen. However the past couple years have given rise to a genre of games, all of them from independent developers, that hinge on the idea of being incredibly frustrating to play. It’s hard to understand the comedic effect that this usually has, typically resulting in a whole bunch of emergent game play characteristics that become the game’s main attraction. Octodad: Dadliest Catch is one such game, combining incredibly obtuse controls with ragdoll physics that results in much hilarity.
You’re an octopus, one that’s managed to integrate himself into normal society to the point that everyone thinks you’re just a regular guy. Indeed even your wife and kids don’t know your secret, blissfully unaware of the chaos that seems to ensue wherever you go. There is one person though that knows who you are, a chef called Fujimoto, and he’s made it his only goal in life to reveal you for who you are and, most unfortunately, cook you up and serve you. What follows is the tale of you trying to integrate into society whilst attempting to flee Chef Fujimoto’s attempts to turn you into moderately priced sushi rolls.
Octodad reminds me of the educational games I use to play as a kid, having a distinctly cartoony style that uses heavily stylization. Initially I thought it was a Unity game as I’ve seen a couple other games with similar visual styles (kind of like how Flash games tended to look similar) but it’s actually a homegrown solution meaning the visual style is very deliberate. Whilst it’s not going to win awards I definitely like it and feel that it’s very fitting to the game. It also has the added bonus of making Octodad playable on pretty much anything which is great considering what a wide appeal the game itself has.
As I alluded to earlier Octodad relies on the unpredictability of the controls to generate the majority of the challenge. Primarily you’ll be doing things that would be considered trivial in most games, picking up an item, moving an item, walking through a hallway of precariously placed objects, however you’ll likely be unable to do that without knocking something over or accidentally picking something up. This wouldn’t be an issue however anything out of the normal will attract the attention of nearby humans and, should you continue your flailing, the jig will be up and it will be back to the ocean for you.
The controls take a bit of getting used to as you have to constantly switch between modes in order to get things done. The first mode is where you can pick up and move objects about, simple enough you say, however the controls don’t translate like you think they would. Then when you switch to the movement mode all the rules you learnt in the other mode go out the window and now you’re on an eternal quest to put your feet in the right position whilst not knocking anything over. Thankfully the devs included snap points for a lot of the main objectives as otherwise there’d be hours of frustration in order to get things to work just right.
Whilst the unpredictability of the physics engine is a feature, not a bug, there are a some unfortunate glitches which can be a tad annoying. You can get yourself into positions where the camera seems to forget where you are and no amount of movement spamming seems to bring it right (reloading a checkpoint will, however). There’s also no way to tell what surfaces you can and can’t adhere yourself to and even when you can the amount of gripping power you have seems to vary wildly depending on the situation. I will admit that the latter seems intentional to an extent but sometimes it felt like the game was punishing you for no reason in particular.
I was pleasantly surprised by Octodad’s story as whilst it’s lacking in depth it certainly isn’t lacking in heart. The subtitles for your lines are great, making you empathize with a character that, in all honesty, has no business being in the position that he’s in. It’s also acutely self aware of the absurdity of its own situation, thankfully not to the point of overdoing it like a lot of games tend to do. It’s the kind of story that I feel would be great for someone with kids as they’ll love the absurdity of Octodad’s flailing arms whilst learning a few things along the way.
Octodad: Dadliest catch is a charming indie frustration title that breaks away from many of the traditional game norms in favour of its own brand of absurdity. The game mechanics might not be complex, nor the puzzles particularly challenging, but it is a great deal of fun to play. The are some minor technical hiccups that mar the otherwise solid execution but they’re not game breaking and indeed you’d almost consider some of them part of the game itself. There’s a lot to like in Octodad: Dadliest catch and I’d definitely recommend a play through.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch is available on PC and PlayStation4 right now for $14.99 on both platforms. Game was played on the PC with around 3 hours of total play time and 13% of the achievements unlocked.
There’s no question that the Double Fine Adventure was responsible for showing that the Kickstarter model could work for games. The now miserly looking target of $400,000 blew by quickly and the final tally saw it being funded a whopping 800% over what they initially hoped to grab. Now I’ll have to be honest here, I wasn’t completely convinced that it would be worth backing because whilst I appreciate Tim Schaefer’s ability to make games people love I just haven’t been a big fan of his. My mind was changed slightly after I played through The Cave however and when Broken Age came up in one of the Humble Bundles I figured it was worth the price of admission and the first chapter was released just recently.
Broken Age puts you in control of one of two characters. I initially chose to be Shay (voiced by none other than Elijah Wood), a young man who seems to be the only passenger on a vast space ship. It’s not your regular kind of space ship however as everything seems to be very….childish with animated stuff animals running around and all the controls reminiscent of Fisher Price toys for toddlers. Indeed this spaceship seems to act more like a prison than a safe haven as the overly motherly computer foils any attempt that you might make to break the monotony.
At any time though, should you want a change of pace or you’re stuck on a puzzle that just doesn’t seem to have a proper solution, you can switch over to Vella, a young woman who has been given the honour of participating in the maiden’s feast. Nearly all your family is incredibly excited for you with the notable exception of your grandfather, a grizzled war veteran from a time long past. As you start to enquire about what the maiden’s feast actually entails the shocking truth comes out: you’re to be eaten by the huge beast Mog Chothra in order to appease him and avoid conflict with the village. Understandably you don’t want anything to do with this and vow to defeat Mog Chothra once and for all.
The art style of Broken Age is simply delightful with every scene exuding this feeling of meticulously hand painted scenes coming to life before your eyes. I’ll admit that the start I felt it was somewhat simplistic but as you play through you get a real feeling for just how detailed many of the scenes are, especially the ones that contain puzzle elements. Indeed when you revisit places throughout your adventure it becomes apparent just how much detail is there which you simply didn’t notice on the first time through. The art style also fits the slightly whimsical nature of the game which makes it even more impressive to me as I’m not usually one for that kind of style.
Broken Age is your typical point and click adventure game where you’ll spend your time shuffling your character around the environment, looking for things to interact with and solving various kinds of puzzles along the way. Unlike other titles in this genre Broken Age doesn’t attempt to put a unique mechanic or twist on the way the game plays through so it is really, truly an old school point and click adventure. Double Fine has gone to the effort to eliminate the inventory hell that plagued traditional point and clicks but apart from that the game would not be out of place, mechanically at least, if it was released a decade or two ago.
For the most part the puzzles are pretty rudimentary, usually requiring you to have the inquisitive kind of mind that long time players of this genre will already have. Most of the time you can solve the puzzles by simply clicking around and finding the things you can interact with and, should that fail, a quick rummage through the inventory typically gets you out of trouble. The final big puzzles of both Vella and Shay’s story lines present more of a challenge, definitely requiring you to think non-linearly, but they provide the lone challenge in an otherwise rather easy game.
One tip I’ll give without spoiling any of the story line is that, as far as I could see, there was one and only one solution to some puzzles. There were a couple times when I had thought that I had achieved a certain goal without needing to take a certain (seemingly obvious) path but found out later, after coming up blank on every other path, that I needed to do the obvious thing in order to progress. Thus if you think you’ve managed to skip over a section or picked up a useless inventory item you’re wrong and there’s something you’re missing.
However harping on the rudimentary-ness of the mechanics and complaining about how I over-thought some of the puzzles is a distraction away from the real core of Broken Age: its story. Initially I thought it was rather superfluous and poorly written, mostly due to me choosing Shay’s path first, however as you play on you realise that’s the point of that section and it’s setting you up for the grander plot. What follows is a beautiful story of two people looking to overcome tradition, in one way or another, attempting to cast off the shackles that have bound them since birth.
I will lament the fact that it’s episodic though as whilst I thought at one point this would be the future of games I always find myself wanting to play the whole thing through and grow disinterested in it between the lulls in content. This is not a fault of the game per se, more a gripe from a person who loves to envelope themselves in a game from beginning to end as one continuous experience. I understand the reasons for releasing Broken Age in this way but I would have not been mad if I had to wait another year to play the whole thing in its entirety.
Broken Age is a wonderful game, combining a whimsical art style with the tried and true adventure game play that Tim Schaefer is well renown for. It stays true to its genre, eschewing the current indie norm of adding in mechanics to distinguish themselves and instead opts for the more seamless improvements, ones that long time adventure gamers will be thankful for. Broken Age is definitely a game for the fans of Tim Schaefer and the adventure genre so I’ll stop short of recommending everyone play it but should you fall into either of the 2 previous categories then it’s definitely worth a look in.
Broken Age is available right now on PC for $24.99. Total play time was approximately 3 hours.
Often the origin tale of a developer can be just as interesting as the games they develop. Long time readers on here will know that I’ve got a soft spot for Wadjet Eye Games who’ve been responsible for publishing some of the best pixel-art adventure games in the last couple years but they’re also a developer themselves having released numerous titles previously. Their first ever game was called The Shivah, initially done as a entry into a monthly game contest, but quickly became their first commercial title. I unfortunately never even heard of it at the time, most likely because I was deep in the throws of my World of Warcraft addiction at the time, but they’ve since remastered it and released it as The Shivah: Kosher Edition and they provided me with a copy for review.
You play as Russell Stone the lone rabbi of a small synagogue in New York city. It’s not the easiest of times for Rabbi Stone as his congregation has been steadily shrinking and the bills keep piling up. Just when he was about to pack everything in he gets a knock at the door: the police want to see him about something. As it turns out a former member of his congregation left him a large sum of money in his will, more than enough to keep the synagogue open. Puzzled as to why this strange windfall has come his way rabbi Stone sets out to find out the reasons as to why this money was left to him and the circumstances in which came.
Whilst I never played the previous version looking through the various guides and reviews of the previous edition of The Shivah shows that a lot of work has gone into revamping the visuals with every aspect being redone. The difference is quite stark with every scene now having a lot more detail, fidelity and lighting effects. It’s the kind of thing that I’ve come to expect from every game Wadjet Eye publishes and I’m glad that their in house titles are no different.
The Shivah is an adventure game where you’ll spend the majority of your time clicking on things, reading through text and figuring out where to go next in order to progress the story. Whilst I can’t comment on its previous incarnation it does feel like this was the part was left pretty much as is as the mechanics are quite simple and barring a couple of the challenges you’re not likely to get stuck at any one position for long. I think this is telling of its origins as an entry to a game challenge contest as many games done in a similar fashion eschew elaborate puzzles due to the constrained development time.
Whilst there’s an inventory system it’s thankfully kept to the bare minimum, mostly serving as another point of reference for solving the other puzzles. I must admit that playing The Shivah I felt like I’d been spoiled by more recently releases in the genre with many implementing a clue system to record pertinent details. The Shivah has this for a few things but there were a couple times where I found myself forgetting a name and having to scramble around the game looking for it again. The notable lack of feedback for some turning points, like in other games where a clue being added to your journal was a good indicator that you could progress, can also leave you wondering what else you need to do. Thankfully most of the time you can get past that by simply travelling to another location but I did manage to get myself caught up in my own head a couple times.
The story is interesting, running you through the trials and tribulations that religions face in the modern day and how the rigorously devout deal with them. Whilst I was a little sceptical as to it being of any interest to me the way The Shivah deals with people compromising on their ideals and how others react to that is quite intriguing. I might understand the plight of the modern day Jew but I’m very familiar with people holding one stance publicly yet doing something else privately and the way The Shivah deals with such hypocrisy has a very real feeling about it.
With it being a rather short game though it’s hard to deeply empathize with any of the characters and whilst some of the scenes can be confronting on an emotional level it certainly didn’t elicit emotions of the same level as say To The Moon (although to be fair few do). The Shivah does get a lot of bonus points for having a story that changes depending on your actions though as how you resolve the situation will greatly depend on how you conduct yourself. Thankfully getting all of them isn’t too difficult so there’s no need to keep a treasure trove of saves lying around and the auto-save function ensures that you’ll have all the chances you need to get the ending you want.
The Shivah: Kosher Edition is a short but sweet experience from Wadjet Eye games, capturing the essence of what led to the publisher’s creation and showing how remastered games in this genre should be done. It’s a simple title, one that’s aptly suited to the iOS platform that this version is available on, and whilst the replay value isn’t high if you’re a fan of Wadjet Eye style games then you’ll definitely enjoy The Shivah.
The Shivah: Kosher Edition is available on PC and iOS right now for $4.99 and $1.99 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 2 hours total play time and 60% of the achievements unlocked. A copy of this game was provided to The Refined Geek for the purposes of reviewing.
I remember sitting in one of my university classes, it was Game Programming Techniques which I was giddy with excitement to be in, and being proposed a simple yet poignant question: how many of you have tried to code a game? The room was filled with students who had spent much of their past few years at university coding but out of the dozens of people there only a few raised their hands. The answer as to why was the same for all of us, we simply did not know how to go about it. Fast forward to today and thanks to tools like GameMaker and Unity it’s possible for anyone, even non-coders, to be able to create a production quality title. Lilly Looking Through is a great example of how these tools enable people to create, without the necessary background in flipping bits.
Lilly is just like any other ordinary kid, letting her curiosity run wild as she ventures around her own little world. One day though something strange catches her eye, a piece of cloth that appears to move with a life of its own. However she can never seem to get close to it, the devious strip of cloth always flitting away at the last possible second. Then suddenly the cloth seemingly takes a dark turn, snatching up Lilly’s brother Ro and whisking him away faster than Lilly can run. What follows is Lilly’s journey to get her brother back, taking her through all sorts of wonderful and whimsical worlds.
Lilly Looking Through has a decidedly Dinsey-esque feeling about it, with the backgrounds all being lovingly hand drawn. It reminded me of the many similar types of games I used to play as a kid like The Magic School Bus and Mario is Missing, albeit with the additional twist of all the animation being done using 3D models. The developers behind Lilly Looking Through should be commended for blending the two elements seamlessly as traditionally it’s usually very obvious where the distinction lies, something that I find quite distracting. The background music is also quite enjoyable, being a great backdrop to the sumptuous visuals.
At its core Lilly Looking Through is a 2.5D point and click adventure game albeit without the usual trimmings of an inventory system and the requisite try this item with every other item to see if you can progress. This is quite typical of the indie scene where general mechanics are left to one side in favour of other things and, in all honesty, it’s refreshing to play a game that doesn’t have a cornucopia of things to do in it. Thus the majority of your time in Lilly Looking Through will be spent solving puzzles and drinking in the scenery you find yourself in.
The one twist in Lilly Looking Through’s puzzle mechanics is the use of her goggles you pick up early in the game. These allow you to switch between two different times in the same world, allowing you to accomplish things that would otherwise be impossible. It’s by no means an unique or innovative mechanic but it does do its job well by making you think about how to use the two different worlds effectively. The rest of the puzzles build off this mechanic, playing on the notion of time passing and setting up things accordingly.
For the most part the puzzles are challenging, encouraging you to look at the scenery around you and figure out how everything interacts in order to unlock the next section. Indeed my favourite puzzle of the lot (shown below) required you to initially play around to figure out what everything did and only then could you approach it scientifically. However the puzzles that rely on understanding colour theory are, to be blunt, unintuitive and just frustrating. I have a basic understanding of how colours mix together but I know that there’s a major difference between mixing paint and mixing light and trying to figure it out intuitively just doesn’t work. It would be ok if this was just a single puzzle but the last few all rely on the colour mixing mechanic.
The story is also pretty simplistic and whilst I’m not adverse to an absence of dialogue (indeed games like Kairo are a powerful experience) it did feel somewhat hollow. I think much of this stems from the fact that Lilly Looking Through is heavily focused on the visual aspect of the game, and in that respect it does well, however it’s just not enough to carry the game on its own. Don’t get me wrong I think it’s still a great little story, especially if I’m guessing right in that their target demographic tend towards the younger generation, but it really is the bare minimum to keep it moving forward.
Lilly Looking Through is a gorgeous little game, one that rewards the player for being inquisitive with a visual display that is quite impressive. The early puzzle mechanics are fun and enjoyable however the later stages that assume some knowledge of colour theory unfortunately let it down, leading to a frustrating experience that feels more like luck than anything else. Still I think it’s a great little game, one that is probably best played by your youngest relative while you watch from the sidelines.
Lilly Looking Through is available on PC and iOS right now for $9.99. Game was played on the PC with around 2 hours total play time.
Telltale Games has a reputation for taking IP that’s either old or from another media and translating it into a new game experience in their very distinctive style. If I’m honest I had avoided many of their titles as whilst it was cool to see things like Sam and Max make a comeback I had long left adventure style games behind, preferring the more fast paced worlds that FPS and RTS offered. Still it was hard to ignore the fervour that surrounded their interpretation of The Walking Dead and my subsequent play through of it showed me that Telltale was able to deliver a deep and compelling story. So when I heard about The Wolf Among Us I was sold on it instantly as the brief taste that 400 Days had given me of the signature Telltale experience had left me wanting for so much more.
The days of the fables living in their own world has long since past and they now attempt to fit into the world of humans through a kind of magic called Glamour. This allows them to take on human form so that they can blend in with the wider world, enabling them to live out their lives in relative obscurity. You play as Big B Wolf (affectionately referred to as Bigby) charged with being the sheriff of the Fabletown community, keeping everyone in line and ensuring the safety of all the fables that have made the transition to the real world. However the magic of glamour doesn’t change past deeds and many old rivalries are still going strong. It was only a matter of time before everything started to take a turn for the worse although you’d never expect Bigby, even with his chequered past, to be at the centre of it.
The Wolf Among Us brings with it Telltale’s trademark style for transitioning comic books to the PC gaming medium, favouring a heavily stylized world that’s light on the graphics but heavy with detail. Every scene feels like a pane pulled straight from a comic book with the only thing missing being giant speech bubbles above all the characters. The art direction has improved quite a bit over The Walking dead with the lighting having an almost oil painting like effect on everything. It’s hard to describe but The Wolf Among Us definitely has a similar feel to other Telltale games but there’s an air of refinement about it that their previous titles lacked.
The main game mechanics remain largely the same from their previous titles with the majority of it taking the form of a point and click adventure that’s peppered with quick time events for the more action oriented scenes. Like the artwork it feels a little more refined than their previous titles with the mechanics having improved UIs that are a lot more responsive. Of course the level of game play in The Wolf Among Us is deliberately simple as the focus is heavily on the story rather than anything else which may frustrate some players. I personally enjoy it, especially after such heavily interactive titles like Shadow Warrior and Grand Theft Auto V, but it’s definitely one of the more valid criticisms that are often levelled at Telltale games.
The dialogue system has seen a small change as now instead of the options being on top of each other they’re laid out as a bunch of squares and no longer begin to fade as the time runs out. The “say nothing” option also seems to be far more prevalent something which you can use to great comedic effect if you feel like doing so. These changes definitely make the options a lot easier to scan and choose between, especially when you don’t have a lot of time to make a decision, and I’m not quite sure how to put it but the flow of dialogue definitely feels different to previous Telltale games. I like it and I’d be interested to see what long time Telltale fans think of the changes.
Whilst I think Telltale are probably the only company to do episodic content right this is the first time I’ve come in at the ground level for one of their IPs and, if I’m honest, it’s actually a little frustrating to start this early. Each episode is a bit sized chunk, on the order of 2 hours each, and whilst they’re quite entertaining in their own right I’m not the kind of person who likes to go back and revisit games for DLC and the like. I most likely will for The Wolf Among Us but it still feels like it’d be somewhat better to wait 5 months until all the episodes are out and then binge on them over a weekend. This can be made up somewhat by the fact that multiple play throughs can be quite a rewarding experience with Telltale titles as the game can play out very differently depending on what seems like minor decisions.
I’m not familiar with the source material behind The Wolf Among Us so I can’t comment to how true to form it is (although I’m told The Walking Dead was essentially like for like) but the story is gripping and thoroughly enjoyable. Of course that’d be all for nothing if the voice acting wasn’t up to scratch but the casting has been done exceptionally well with Bigby’s gravely voice fitting his character perfectly. I really can’t wait to see how it develops over the coming episodes as the first episode was action packed enough and the small teaser they give you at the end is almost cruel in how many questions it raises.
The Wolf Among Us continues Telltale’s success with translating IP material onto the video game medium with skill that few other game developers can match. The current instalment is more than enough to get you hooked into this new world, leaving you clawing at the walls for more that won’t be coming for another month. Whilst the simplistic game style won’t be for everyone the story more than makes up for this, providing an extremely rewarding experience for those who take the small amount of time to experience it. Whilst I’d probably recommend holding off until all the episodes are out it still stands on its own as a great experience, even if its a little short.
The Wolf Among Us is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 for $24.99. Game was played on the PC with around 2 hours of total play time and 16% of the achievements unlocked.
Since my review of the original The Walking Dead from Telltale games I’ve found myself far more involved in the IP. I’ve watched all the TV episodes and whilst it isn’t my favorite show out there it still ranks up there as one of those shows that I’d say is recommended watching. Of course I understand that while they share the same source material the games are far more true to the originals and whilst I haven’t had the chance to read through them I can definitely attest to the incredible amount of character development that happens in The Walking Dead series. 400 Days is an episodic DLC for The Walking Dead, serving as an introduction for the story that will come with season 2. Now I’m not usually one for DLC but The Walking Dead stands out as one of the best episodic, story focused games out there which made this hard to pass up.
400 Days gives you a brief introduction into 5 different story lines that all within a short time frame of each other. They serve as the character’s origin stories, ostensibly the ones that will be used as a basis for season 2, and since you’re playing through them you have a certain amount of control over how their characters develop. All of them come with baggage, both from before the outbreak and after, and how you deal with that will determine how they play out in the future. This rings true to the rest of the series which was highly reactive the choices you made, even the ones you thought were of no consequence at the time.
Considering this is just a DLC it comes as no surprise that there’s been no dramatic changes to the art style or general game mechanics. It still feels very much like you’re playing a game that’s taking place in a comic book as style that works incredibly well, seemingly taking the idea of authenticity to its utmost conclusion. The voice acting has remained top notch as well with all the lines delivered with the expected emotion and gravity befitting the situation happening on screen. It shouldn’t be surprising really as this is essentially the 5th time they’ve done this and every time Telltale games have shown they can deliver.
Unlike the previous installments which followed Lee and Clementine’s quest to stay alive in a hostile world 400 days instead gives you the option of picking which story arc you’d like to investigate. Whilst I’m sure that many will do pretty much as I did, going from left to right, there’s no right or wrong way to play through them. They do intertwine however which means that it’s up to you to form part of the narrative through deducing the links, however they’re not exactly subtle so I don’t think anyone would miss them. Each of the stories are unique and provide you the opportunity to shape their character in some way and with a few cases you can (I suspect) radically change their behavior.
Mechanically it plays essentially the same as The Walking Dead did with the addition of a couple more mechanics that feel like they are there to test the waters for the next season. You’ve got your usual adventure game mechanics of clickable items which you can then interact with however since this is essentially just a bit of background story for each of the characters there’s really no puzzles to speak of. There’s a few challenges but the NPCs tell you exactly what to do so unless you deviate from that then there’s really nothing to threaten you. You could almost consider the mechanics unnecessary as they are as basic as you can get however I do appreciate them as they help to break up what would otherwise be a monotonous experience.
Thankfully it looks like Telltale has taken some of the lessons learned with previous releases and applied them to this one as my experience with 400 days was completely bug free. The worst thing that can happen in story focused games like this is game issues breaking immersion and The Walking Dead had enough of them that I had a couple occasions where I just stopped playing because of it. Hopefully this trouble free experience translates well onto season 2 as that was probably the only negative thing I can remember about The Walking Dead.
Of course that’s all second to the incredibly confronting stories that 400 Days manages to tell in its short play time. Every single one of the story lines will force you to make a hard decision, some a choice between two that neither of which you can completely agree with. Some of the things you’ll do thinking they were the right thing to do, or were simply the only way you could react given the situation, will put you on a path that you don’t agree with. How you deal with that will impact on how the character reacts later down the track and, if the foreboding is anything to go by, how the story of season 2 shapes itself.
400 days fits right in with the rest of The Walking Dead series, providing a little taste of what’s to come in season 2 and giving you the opportunity to shape the story before it starts. If you enjoyed the previous series then you’re sure to like 400 days as the same game play and story telling is there, it’s just the people you’ll be following is different. If you haven’t played any of them then I’d strongly recommend you do as they’re one of the stand out story first titles in recent memory and if 400 days is anything to go by season 2 will continue on with that tradition.
The Walking Dead: 400 days is available on PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox360 and iOS right now for $4.99 on all platforms. Total game time was 2.5 hours with 88% of the achievements unlocked.
It really is quite staggering to see how far games have come since I first started playing them nearly 3 decades ago. Even more surprising is how each style of game still has a place in the market today, even those that forego all modern trimmings in favour of recreating those early experiences. Last year saw a bevy of such titles cross my path and I was really quite surprised just how enjoyable revisiting that period of gaming could be. When I first read about Evoland it seemed like an intriguing idea as it would take you through the history of adventure games whilst also telling its own story.
Evoland starts out as a classic Legend of Zelda clone, all the way down to the pixely graphics and limited colour pallette. However as you move around and start finding chests of loot you’re not greeted by additional items to help you on your journey. No instead you will typically get an upgrade to your game experience like the addition of music, better colours and, my personal favourite, extra dimensions. These all build upon each other so as you progress through Evoland it becomes an ever increasingly varied game, one that aptly captures the essence of nearly all adventure games that have come before it.
Considering that Evoland’s primary goal is to take you through the history of adventure games the art style varies wildly from flat, 2D pixel art right up to full 3D environments that are reminiscent of titles like The Longest Journey. The pixelart is quite good, especially after a couple pallette upgrades, but the 3D feels incredibly rudimentary by comparison. It’s somewhat in line with the rest of the game as nothing about Evoland is terribly complicated so it all kind of fits together, at least enough to carry the overall thrust of the game forward.
In the beginning Evoland is your run of the mill, top down 2D adventure game complete with enemies that run around randomly and you equipped with only a sword with which to dispatch them. It plays exactly like the old Zelda games as well as you’re left to run around the environment looking for the next puzzle that’s blocking your progression. You can also, if you’re so inclined, explore even further to find all the collectibles that are scattered around the map although there’s little reason to do so outside of wanting to complete all the achievements.
The more you play Evoland the complex and nuanced it becomes, something you’ll be acutely aware of because it’ll tell you every time you unlock another game mechanic with an alert plastered across the bottom of the screen. Some of them have obvious and immediate impacts on the way the game plays, like the introduction of a world map which introduces random turn based combat encounters ala Final Fantasy, and others are more subtle like the “Something happened somewhere” alert that indicates you triggered an off screen event.
Initially the introduction of new elements is quite fun as it’s like a whole new game has been opened up for you. However due to the rudimentary nature of Evoland’s many different aspects they quickly start to descend into tedium. The random turn based encounters are probably the best example of this as you can’t walk for more than 10 seconds without one of them occurring. After a while these don’t take too long to resolve but the lack of variety in these encounters means that after the 3rd or 4th fight you’ve seen all the enemies Evoland has to offer and you’re essentially just grinding away XP and glis (a nod to Final Fantasy’s Gil system) which only has a limited amount of utility.
Indeed whilst Evoland is a cohesive game on the surface the actual mechanics of it aren’t exactly uniform across every new iteration. Most dungeons have been designed with a specific idea in mind and whilst some of the abilities will transfer across (like the upgraded combo sword attack) most of them won’t. So whilst one dungeon might give you a health orb rather than the 3 hearts system you’ll likely find that once you go anywhere else the health system du jour is back again. They also all seem to have separate internal values as well as half health in the turn based combat system doesn’t seem to translate to 1.5 hearts in the dungeon system.
Realistically Evoland is more like 4 distinct games that are loosely tied together by common elements. Viewed like this I’m more inclined to overlook the faults of them not completely interacting with each other. Indeed since the overall thrust of the game is more to take you through the evolution of adventure games rather than provide an in depth experience in each successive iteration of them I’d be missing the point if I judged it on the merits of the individual section’s gameplay. I guess what I’m getting at is if you’re looking for a solid gameplay experience you’re likely to come up short with Evoland, but that’s not the reason you’d play it.
There is some semblance of a story which really only sees development during the last couple sections. It might have been because I named my characters Dudeface, Butts and Mouman respectively but I didn’t feel any attachment to them nor any real drive to move the story forward apart from the desire to see which game mechanic would be unlocked next. The final boss battle was pretty cool though with the combination of music and larger than life boss aptly capturing the essence of those same encounters in games of yore.
Evoland serves as a great history book, detailing the many transitions that adventure games have undergone during the years. As a game it’s nothing spectacular but the essence of each era of adventure games is captured within each upgrade of the Evoland’s mechanics. There’s a very specific audience in mind for Evoland and it’s for people like me who grew up on all the titles that inspired it. So if you find yourself pining for the golden age of gaming or you’d just like take a trip down memory lane then Evoland is the game for you.
Evoland is available on PC right now for $9.99. Total game time was approximately 2 hours with ~83% completion and 34% of the achievements unlocked.